Fresh peppers at Pepper Place Market

Fresh From the Field

Story and Photos by Virginia H. Harris

Nothing says fresh like the seasonal produce you can find at a local farmers market, and thanks to a recent push to “buy local,” farmers markets are enjoying a revival. If you’re craving farm fresh produce for your table, check out these markets in the Birmingham area.



Sign welcoming patrons to the Alabama Farmers Market.

Sign welcoming patrons to the Alabama Farmers Market.

Alabama Farmers Market

Undoubtedly the largest market in the state, The Alabama Farmers Market attracts 207 member growers from throughout Alabama along with 14 retail vendors and private flea market sellers. The market is open year-round but spring, summer and fall are the prime seasons to find locally-grown goods. Get lost among the vendors and you just might leave with more than a basket of tomatoes.

Where: 344 Finley Ave. W
Why: Enjoy the huge variety any day of the year.

Mt. Laurel Farms

If you’re looking to go for a drive on one of Birmingham’s beautiful spring Saturdays, located 30 minutes down Highway 280 East is Mt. Laurel, a town akin to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. The organic farm stand is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, year-round providing seasonal vegetables straight from the field. If you’re craving a day-trip, the Farmers Market and Craft Fair offers organically grown produce, freshly baked pies and cakes as well as crafts and artwork. The fair is open from 8 noon each Saturday from May to October.

A Mt. Laurel sidewalk boasts fresh flowers for your spring beds.

A Mt. Laurel sidewalk boasts fresh flowers for your spring beds.

Where: 5 Mt. Laurel Ave.
Why: Get outside of the city and enjoy the small town atmosphere of this neighborhood.

Pepper Place Market

Located in the Lakeview district of downtown Birmingham is an oasis of rural goodness.  While perusing the freshest produce available in downtown, enjoy live music, a cooking demonstration or just chat with the locals. The market opens on April 16, 2011 and runs every Saturday until Dec. 17, rain or shine. For the 2011 season, the market partnered with the Alabama Department of Tourism to promote and celebrate Alabama’s musical heritage with The Year of Alabama Music. Pepper Place promotes various local musicians and artists throughout the year as part of this statewide celebration.

Fresh peppers at Pepper Place Market (Photo by Lauren Womack)

Fresh peppers at Pepper Place Market

Where: 2829 Second Ave. S
Why: Jump start your day by arriving early and supporting local farmers.

Easter Egg Hunting: You’re Never Too Old


Samford University students participated in the fourth annual, highly-anticipated Easter Egg Hunt. The campus-wide event took place on the picturesque Quad where just over 4,000 plastic Easter eggs were stuffed with candy, gift-cards and other surprises. The Student Activities Council’s Special Events committee was in charge of planning and executing the festive event.


“I loved getting close with the amazing girls on my committee! I couldn’t have done it without all their help and they made the whole process so enjoyable,” Ashley Martin, director of the Special Events committee said.

“We had a blast distributing that many eggs on the Quad and getting to see the event come to life. It was worth every minute when I saw the students diving after those eggs! All of our hard work paid off and I’m so thankful I got to share in this Samford tradition.”


About 400 students met on the Quad just before 6 p.m. As soon as a horn sounded, the eggs were up for grabs. A few students were especially lucky — five won either a $200 gift certificate to The Summit, Beats by Dre or a mini iPad.

“The hunt was a lot more like a race. Think the Hunger Games,” said senior family studies major Caroline Dill, “Still, I loved getting to participate in this Samford tradition for the last time.”

No matter the prizes, all participants gathered together after the race for the eggs for dinner and candy.

Students gathered in front of Hodges Chapel for dinner after the “race.”



The Birmingham Crisis Center: talking does help

Crises Center

Talking does help.

The Birmingham Crisis Center’s simple motto seeks to very simply convey its mission to Central Alabama, to serve the unmet needs of people experiencing personal crisis or mental health issues and respond with services that promote coping, emotional health and well being.

“We are a safe place,” said Valerie Shayman, the Crisis and Suicide Line Program Coordinator at the Crisis Center. “Our staff and volunteers pride themselves in making sure this is a non-judgmental, safe, and comfortable atmosphere so all of our clients can receive the support they need and deserve.”

And its clients are indeed the Crisis Center’s first priority. As the Center provides support services over the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and has been in operation since 1970, it is clear that the Center is committed to maintaining a safe environment for their clients.

The Crisis Center offers several different specialized programs with which it serves its clients. They include the Crisis and Suicide Line (with recently added texting and instant messaging), age-specific lines including Teen Link, Kids’ Help Line and the Senior Talk Line, a Rape Response line (along with other services for victims including exams, legal advocacy and counseling), a Payee Program and the Piper Place Day Program, which offers mental health services.

With so many areas of service, the Crisis Center is always in need of volunteers.

“We’re looking for you!” Shayman said. “We are interested in a wide variety of volunteers! Key traits that work best in our programs are open-minds, nonjudgmental attitudes, patience and a willingness to help others.”

Samford Seniors Emily Bruchas and Ali Rames have been volunteering at the Crisis Center this semester as part of their Family Studies curriculum at Samford University.

“Volunteering at the Crisis Center has given me first hand experience in counseling,” Rames said. “I love being able to make a difference in someone’s life, whether that means helping them through a situation, or simply listening to them talk.”

Bruchas further explained the importance of a listening ear. “I’ve realized that even as a student I can help individuals deal with the current problem in their life. However, I’ve also realized many people just need someone to talk to, especially the elderly. It makes me re-evaluate what we need to do in society to give everyone a full and healthy life,” she said.

After the prospective volunteer completes an application on the Crisis Center’s website, an interview is scheduled with the appropriate coordinator. Volunteers then complete extensive training, which is designed to help the new volunteer be prepared for a variety of circumstances.

“We include group discussion, role-play, and multimedia in our training,” Shayman said. “All volunteers complete ‘shadow shifts’ as well. During a shadow shift, the new volunteer has the opportunity to observe calls or Rape Response cases as they occur to help them feel more prepared for when they begin working cases or taking calls on their own.”

For more information about the Crisis Center or to find out how you can get involved as a volunteer, visit

Ruffner Mountain: a close escape for Birmingham


When the hustle and bustle of city life becomes too much, there’s always Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve.

Just ten minutes from downtown Birmingham, Ruffner Mountain, Alabama’s oldest nature center, is one of the largest urban nature centers in the United States. But despite its convenient proximity, Ruffner Mountain offers all the seclusion one could demand from a park.

In addition to seclusion, the certified wildlife preserve also affords visitors 12 miles of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty. The trails also give hikers a peek into Birmingham’s history, as they bypass the sites of the iron mines used to craft Sloss Furnaces.

Ken Sransky, a native of Trussville, Ala., first came to Ruffner Mountain with his son Jamie to birdwatch. Today, he’s visiting because the park is hosting a special event – a birthday party for his 10-year-old grandson Sam and his Boy Scout troop.

“My son Jamie is an artist and an architect,” Sransky says. “He likes to get the kids outside so they don’t watch television all the time.”

Sam, his troop and most of his classmates are unavailable for comment. They’re on a scavenger hunt with one of the park’s rangers – one of the many events Ruffner Mountain provides.

One of Sransky’s favorite aspects of Ruffner Mountain is its proximity to downtown.

“I’m from Trussville, so it’s really nice having something so close,” he says. “It’s very peaceful.”

His wife, Patty, seconds his opinion.

“I love it here,” she says.

Back Down South Films


Back Down South Films co-directors, Stephen Stinson and Logan Dillard. Photograph courtesy of Jamison Skinner. 

At 22 years old, most people are figuring out their vocation and searching for that perfect job.
Former Samford University students and Back Down South Films co-founders Logan Dillard and Stephen Stinson quickly realized their dream job did not exist — so they decided to create it.

The idea was conceived when Dillard and Stinson produced a music video for a local Birmingham band for a class project during their senior year of college.

“It was a school project that originally wasn’t supposed to be that time consuming,” Stinson said. “We decided that if we were going to do a music video for a great friend, we needed to take our time and make it the best it could be.”

Without a budget and any real resources, the two rented out the deep end of the Samford swimming pool, brought in their own lights, and began filming a music video that soon became the foundation for what is now Back Down South Films.

After releasing the video the two received more coverage than expected, including support from Noise Trade and a few local magazine blogs. It was then that Stinson and Dillard realized their joint collaboration didn’t have to be limited to work in a classroom but could be something they pursued as a career.
“We realized that we don’t have to do this for a grade. We can do this because it’s something that we are good at and passionate about,” Dillard said.
The two said they believed that to make their dreams a reality, they would eventually have to take action.
“So many people are passionate about things, but they are too scared to pursue their dreams,” Stinson said. “There’s always going to be that point of time when you have to take that leap.”

That’s exactly what the two have done. They walked away from their jobs and started a company founded on their passion for producing quality films. With a love for storytelling, the two believe that in film production, “you don’t have to sacrifice quality for creativity.”
Dillard and Stinson shoot everything from weddings to music videos and enjoy both the production and creative aspects of film. “We don’t want to be one of those companies that just shows up for the production. The planning doesn’t bore us, because we love being involved in it,” Stinson said. “Eventually, we want to work with small businesses and local artists that need advice about what to do next.”

In the midst of the beginnings of this new company, Dillard and Stinson are basking in the freedom to truly pursue their passions. Back Down South Films is expanding quickly and the company that was once two college students’ dream has become a reality.
With the support and collaboration of the Birmingham community, the two are entering this season of growth and expansion with anticipation and excitement. “We feel this is the starting line of a race and we’re ready to sprint,” Dillard said.

For more information about Back Down South Films, visit

By: Kadie Haase

Moss Rock Preserve for nature lovers and thrill seekers alike

Just 12 miles from the towering buildings and busy streets of downtown Birmingham lies a scenic outdoor escape with a quiet forest, peaceful streams and the most noticeable feature — magnificent, lofty boulders.

The boulders of Moss Rock Preserve draw all types of people in. Avid climbers make the trek from various parts of the Southeast to face these rocks. Families enjoy fresh air as they take family portraits or let their kids climb. Young couples walk with their dog. College students take a study-break from classes. The wonderful feature of this getaway is that whether a first-time guest or a regular climber, each trip to the boulders of Moss Rock Preserve offers a challenge and thrill.IMG_2642

Colby Tindle, a 25-year-old painter from Hoover, first came out to Moss Rock in high school. He said it was much less crowded back then. Tindle speculated that word of mouth has made the spot more popular over the last few years. Tindle first came to the preserves with friends, and since then he has introduced his brothers and others to these boulder adventures. So what exactly draws people in? The natural landscape and beautiful scenery are certainly appealing, but for many people it really is about the rocks. Bouldering, or rock climbing without a harness, is a culture in-and-of itself.

Garrett, Tindle’s brother, is a recent high school graduate that climbs in his free time as well. Climbing for him is a relaxing, free way to get out. He says it’s his favorite thing to do. Garrett likes the thrill of knowing there is a possibility of falling and also the ability to conquer new rocks.

Being out on the rocks makes him feel closer to nature. Tindle really enjoys finding new rocks and new paths to conquer. Regulars like him often have their own climbing shoes that let them grasp the rocks better and give them the ability to do more difficult climbs. He also has a crash pad — which he puts under the climbing path in case he falls.

Tindle said that he likes the people he meets out at the Moss Rock Preserve. Bonded by a love of climbing, he gets to make connections with all types of people. Strangers have tips to offer, climbing paths to point out and stories to tell.
Climbing at Moss Rock Preserve offers a unique outdoor experience for nature lovers and thrill seekers alike.

Civil Rights: 50 years forward

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” Matthew 5:43-44 reads. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

Jesus’ famous words framed Sixteenth Street Baptist Church’s Sunday School lesson on Sept. 15, 1963. Titled “A Love that Forgives,” it was a message that the predominantly African-American congregation, who were suffering under racial persecution’s climax, desperately needed to hear. Just three months before, Police Commissioner Theophilus “Bull” Connor ordered the use of fire hoses and police dogs against thousands of African-American youths. The atrocious police brutality attracted national and international attention to perhaps the most racist city in the United States.

In a cruel irony, the congregation never heard the lesson on forgiving its enemies. Instead, at 10:22 a.m., a bomb interrupted the service, killing schoolgirls Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair and Carole Robinson and injuring more than 20 other worshippers. Later that day, two more African-American children lost their lives to police and white mobs.

Although that day’s events were horrific, they also served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement’s victory. City officials could no longer ignore the infamous reputation of “Bombingham.” By the end of the decade, African-Americans were vying for and often winning positions as police officers, school superintendents and even suburban neighbors.

Today, Birmingham looks back in reflection and forward in anticipation. The bells of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church tolled in memory of the four girls on Sept. 15, 2013 – exactly 50 years since the tragedy. Their ringing reminds attendees just how much Birmingham has changed. Next to the historic church lies the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which opened in 1992, and Elizabeth MacQueen’s Four Spirits statue memorializing the four schoolgirls unveiled this year in Kelly Ingram Park. An avenue named after Richard Arrington Jr., Birmingham’s first African-American mayor, pierces downtown. Downtown blossoms under the leadership of Mayor William Bell – also African-American – with the construction of Railroad Park, Regions Field and a new entertainment district orbiting the city center, a scene suggesting Birmingham’s best days are yet to come.

‘The blue collar town’
While it may be Birmingham’s most infamous chapter, the Civil Rights Movement is merely one piece of its history, Samford history professor Jonathan Bass said. To fully understand its significance, Bass said one should start at the very beginning—1906, to be precise.

That was the year U.S. Steel bought the behemoth Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and, in about four decades, built an empire in Birmingham. By World War II’s end in 1945, the city’s iron ores and steel mines were in full production and U.S. Steel had become the city’s largest employer.

“This was a blue collar town,” Bass said, “and that was the heyday of Birmingham’s industrial might.”

But that heyday ended during the 1950s when U.S. Steel found cheaper, higher quality iron ore in Venezuela. The mines closed as quickly as they opened. African-Americans bore the brunt of that change.

“If you go back and look in the city directories, you’ll see African-Americans played a pivotal role in the labor forces,” Bass said. “But [the closures] shifted around jobs a good bit. Unskilled and skilled black labor gets pushed out of the workforce as whites lose their mine jobs and transfer elsewhere.”

That decline in the steel industry, Bass said, set tensions high for 1963.

The Third Great Awakening
During the steel industry’s great leap forward, another factor that would propel the Civil Rights Movement was coming to power—a religious revival.
“[Some] scholars have found ways to interpret the Civil Rights movement without recognizing the role of religion,” Bass said. “But you cannot separate those.”

Bass said that Martin Luther King Jr. is often seen as a political hero but in many ways he belongs with Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney and other American religious powerhouses. The fight for Civil Rights was, in turn, also a religious crusade, nestled perfectly within a spiritual awakening that marked the mid-20th century.

A few years ago Bass attended a Bible study with African-American men ages 18 to 81. He recalls his fellow participants comparing the disciples with local citizens’ sacrifices for civil rights. “That was really eye-opening for me,” Bass said.

Bass continued that, too often, quests for social justice are secularized. That wasn’t the case for African-Americans. “At the center of the Civil Rights Movement was actively practicing your faith,” Bass said. “[The foot soldiers] weren’t out there saying, ‘Bring on the dogs, bring on the fire hoses because I have a secular commitment to social justice.’ If you ask foot soldiers why they were out there, they’re going to say they were putting their faith into action.”

Towards the light
“Most people really look at the Birmingham story as police dogs, fire hoses, four little girls, end of story,” Bass said. “But that’s only the beginning of the story.”
The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 dealt strong blows to segregation, but they weren’t enough. Dismantling segregation was a lofty task, but under the leadership of Mayor George Siebels and city councilwoman Nina Miglionico, it happened.
After three long years, the first African-American policeman, Leroy Stover, was finally hired. Then African-Americans D.M. Jefferson and E.W. Taggart joined the Birmingham Dental Society. In 1968, African-American Leon Kennedy became superintendent of Jefferson County schools.
But Bass said the Civil Rights Movement culminated in 1979 with the election of the city’s first African-American mayor, Richard Arrington Jr.
“That was [the conclusion] of what King began in 1963,” Bass said.

Miles to go
Although the dark days of segregation may be over, the battle for equality continues. Mark Stribling, a volunteer at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, recalls his first visit to Birmingham in 1999 for a job interview at UAB.
“My coworkers said, ‘We want to take you to the Civil Rights Institute,’” Stribling, a native of Pittsburg, said. “‘But we can’t because there’s a KKK march.’ I didn’t know racism would be so public [here].”
But for the most part, racism is more innocent. Stribling highlighted the wealth disparity between African-Americans and whites. “White people just bought a car, and black people still have to ride the bus,” he said. “Segregation’s just in a different form.”
Bass noticed the same phenomenon. “Even before the great white flight had started, people on this side of the mountain look down their noses and over the mountain at what goes on in Birmingham,” he said. “What so many residents don’t realize is that what’s good for Birmingham is good for the rest of the county and these municipalities as well.”
Stribling said that education is the antidote to prejudice and indifference. “[Racists] walk around in ignorance,” he said, describing local teenagers who dressed as Ku Klux Klan members and even carried nooses for Halloween. “You have to teach what things represent,” he said. “People in the KKK [dress] to be the ghosts of Confederate soldiers coming back from the dead to kill black people.” Once teens learn this, they usually stop wearing their costumes, Stribling said.
Likewise, Bass challenges youth to examine the faith of African-Americans. “I think the best way for young people to understand the Civil Rights movement is to really look at what motivated these people,” he said. “They would say they were Christians doing what Jesus called them to do.”
Interestingly, when Stribling described the future of Birmingham, he mentioned little of racial division. Instead, he talked about young urbanites flocking back to downtown, UAB forging a law school and a booming business district.
On Dec. 3, 1963, “Look” magazine published Charles Morgan’s editorial about Birmingham titled “I Saw a City Die.” “Who killed Birmingham?” he said in his introduction. “Not only the hate-filled murderers of four girls, but we ‘nice people’ who did nothing to save our city from race hatred.”
Then the nice people came and resurrected Birmingham so Stribling could say something that 50 years ago would be unimaginable.
“No black person fears walking down the street and getting harassed or called a name.”

Old and magnificent: The Alabama Theatre


The Alabama Theatre may be old, but it is not forgotten.

Concerts, movies, dance competitions, weddings and film festivals take over the theatre from January to December, bringing people – young and old – together under the ornate domed ceiling in downtown Birmingham.

Built in 1927 by Paramount Studios, the same year that “talking pictures” debuted, the historic and beloved landmark became a public place where locals enjoyed nights of vaudeville and movies. In the 1930s, children took over the theatre on Saturdays for The Mickey Mouse Club meetings, which soon evolved into the largest club in the world.

When downtown Birmingham struggled to stay afloat during the economic recession of the 1980s, the once-booming theatre also suffered.

“When downtown was experiencing quite a bit of vacancy, the property owners just really thought that the theatre wasn’t going to produce any profit. They were going to make it a parking lot,” said Brant Beene, executive director of the Alabama Theatre and director of Birmingham Landmarks, Inc.

Thankfully one of the oldest and most unique instruments, the “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ, had enough loyal advocates who simply refused to witness the destruction of “Big Bertha.”

“This group of people realized that in order to save the organ, they would have to save the whole theatre,” Beene said. “They put together a campaign and got the newspaper involved and all kinds of people.”

The nonprofit organization, Birmingham Landmarks, was formed in 1987 to purchase the building and save the “Mighty Wurlitzer” and the Alabama. Cecil Whitmire, who passed away in 2010, founded Birmingham Landmarks. Whitmire, his wife Linda and Birmingham attorney Danny Evans lead the nonprofit over the next ten years to restore the theatre. “They spent a lot of money and time bringing the Alabama back to life,” Beene said.

By 1998, the Alabama, cleaned and refinished under the supervision of Whitmire and dedicated volunteers, was more than back in business.

Currently the month of December is one of the busiest for the Alabama. The Holiday Film Series draws crowds to the 2,200 seats. “White Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” are just a few of the classics to grace the theatre year after year.

“For the last four or five years we’ve had quite a bit of sold-out houses. Every now and then we get a few angry calls when we don’t show a favorite classic Christmas movie,” Beene said with a smile, “But we do our best and try to add shows so everyone can experience their favorite at the Alabama.”

Oil paintings and gilded furnishings, granite, marble, mirrors and hundreds of elaborate light fixtures adorn the unforgettable interior of the theatre.

“I’ve been working at the Alabama for about six years now, but I find something new on the walls, in the details, just everywhere, all of the time,” said theatre employee Tommie Folker, who makes sure the lighting throughout the theatre is in perfect condition.

Beene said one of his favorite parts about his job is witnessing younger generations come to the theatre for the first time, either as a visitor or a performer, and then come back years later for concerts, movies and weddings.

“It’s really neat to see people come back from 50 or 60 years ago, because things haven’t really changed inside that much,” Beene said. “People really get to step back in time and remember their first visit at the magnificent Alabama.”


By Rebekah Robinson

Iron City Birmingham: A place of many talents

Legends are born, not made.

At least that was the case until Iron City Birmingham opened its doors this past March.

Mark Creager, Iron City’s general manager, said that every aspect of Iron City was constructed with the customer in mind.
“We started with the customer. What’s going to make the customer the happiest, what’s going to give them the experience? Our standard here is leaps and bounds above the rest,” Creager said.

The venue, which has a 1,300 person standing capacity, is located in the heart of downtown Birmingham.


The standing-floor of Iron City Birmingham is right in front of the stage and is surrounded by lofted seating.

“It’s a big enough facility that it’s still intimate for the crowds and for the artist. We wanted a platform that we could get legends on but not have the arena-sized crowds around them — to give back the very personal nature of music to the artist and to the customer,” Creager said.

Perhaps it’s that unique feel that has been drawing big names like Passion Pit, Ben Rector, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros to the Iron City Stage.

“There really is something for everybody,” said Kendall McPheeters, who recently attended a Passion Pit concert at Iron City. “I really enjoyed being so close to the band, but thought it was so cool how the different levels offered at Iron City catered to each individual’s needs.”

That’s exactly what Iron City planned. The main venue space where the central stage is located features three different levels: a dropped floor below the stage creates a more intimate space for the most dedicated fans, the main floor features the bar and a loft space surrounding the stage with several sets of tables and chairs allows for patrons to watch the concert from a more relaxed vantage point.

But Iron City isn’t just a well thought out concert venue — it’s so much more. The space is also available to rent out for private parties and it features two smaller stages for smaller-scale events.

Yet maybe the thing that sets Iron City apart from its local competitors is the fact that it’s not just a concert venue or place to hold an event—Iron City also boasts a full-service restaurant.

“You can come up here and have a dinner that’s not like bad bar food,” said Creager.


Iron City Grill is a top-notch restaurant  just steps away from the concert hall.

Iron City Grill features a full service menu that is competitive in price and flavor to Birmingham’s Southside area. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner and Saturday for dinner, the grill is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat before a show.

With all that it offers, what’s next for Iron City? “More, More, More,” Creager said.

For an up-to-date calendar and grill menu, be sure to visit

By Sarah Anne Elliott

Photographs by Sarah Anne Elliott

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Iron City Birmingham